Barrel Racing Tack And Equipment For Barrel


One of the most overlooked aspects of barrel racing is the tack that you ride, practice, and race in.

Having high-quality, well-fitting gear is going to drastically improve your runs.

In this article, we will talk about all the tack you will need.

We also will help guide you, ensuring that all of your gear fits appropriately and functions correctly.

I will also share some insider secrets for caring for your equipment to make it last!

“There are no specific tack requirements for the barrel racing industry, although there are definitely the ins and outs of picking the correct tack to ensure that you are riding the best you can. It is even more critical to ensure your tack works as well as it possibly can with your horse. The tack should always be determined by your and your horse’s needs. 

Generally, curb chains, nosebands, and tie-downs are valuable pieces of equipment in addition to your bridal, bit, saddle, cinch, protective leg gear, reins, and other working equipment.”- Barrel Racing 101 By: Augustus M. Walton.


Barrel Racing Tack And Equipment
What tack and equipment is best for barrel racers? Find out in this article.

The saddle

The most important and helpful thing to remember when picking out a new barrel saddle or considering your own saddle is the fit for both you AND your horse.

While there are no regulations on most tack and equipment in barrel racing, it is still vital to have a saddle that fits you and your horse correctly.

Ill-fitting saddles can cause soreness, lameness, and loss of performance abilities.

A high-quality barrel racing saddle will sit you deep in the saddle and allow you to step out during your quick turns.

In addition, you want to be able to freely swing your leg in your saddle.

Another aspect you want to consider is an appropriate horn for your hand size.

Your horn may come in handy for positioning in tight turns, so make sure you can grab hold of it.

Many different saddle makers specialize in barrel saddles. Therefore, when you are choosing a saddle, your options are relatively endless. 

Many people use shims to fit their saddles to their horses even better. Many trainers follow this process to keep their need for multiple saddles for their client horses to a minimum. 

Sherry Cervi explains shimming in this video HERE.
Barrel racing saddle
If you don’t carefully choose a saddle that fits both you AND your horse, it will impact your performance and runs.


The right pad

The right pad can sometimes be just as important as your saddle and how it fits your horse.

The right pad can further balance and help with weight redistribution along your horse’s back.

How your saddle and pad fit your horse will significantly help or hinder running your barrels.

You want your pad to be lightweight, durable, and breathable and help with weight bearing on their topline by creating a surface area that allows the saddle to redistribute weight evenly.

One of the most beautiful improvements in the tack industry has been the revolution of custom-built saddle pads. 

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Breast collars are a handy tool to have, primarily if you deal with your saddle slipping back too far or have a horse that may be slightly uphill.

As with any tack, a properly fitting breast collar can make a huge difference.

When your horse performs, your body plays a prominent role in how your horse balances and shifts its weight.

A common problem is a breast collar that ends up being too loose.

You can usually tell because the breast collar will be slightly below the point of the shoulder on the horse.

This can lead to the saddle shifting further than you want it to, and your horse, as a result, has a more challenging time getting around the barrels quickly.

Not only will your overall performance be hindered, but your horse is at risk of unnecessary pressure being placed on its kidneys. 

To figure out a happy balance for your breast collar, tighten it to the point that it keeps your saddle in place even with movement.

You should be able to slightly loosen your saddle, work the horse, and notice no backward movement of the saddle.

You may need to play around with testing your breast collar, but once you find the correct placement, you won’t need to change it too much unless you hop on a different mount.


Headstalls, bits, and headgear

When considering the bit and headstall/ headgear choice for your barrel horse, it is constructive to keep in mind that your goals for your headgear equipment are much different than other disciplines within the horse industry.


For most equestrians, bits are mainly used as a secondary/ helping tool for their primary aids.

The bit is used for slowing the horse down, steering, and collection.

Many barrel racing-specific bits are designed to actually aid in correcting your barrel horse immediately or before issues occur that need to be addressed.

MANY barrel racing bits are available on the market, and they all have slightly different purposes.

Some help create lift within your horse’s shoulder, and others help correct a horse that drops its shoulder or throws its hip out. 


With all of these actions, aids, and choices, it is essential to understand the principles behind the different options in barrel racing bit styles. 


Bits that are mainly seen in barrel racing:


Please keep in mind that every horse and every rider are different.

How you ride and use your hands, and the inherent advantages and disadvantages your horse has will affect the way the bit is used and your results.


PRO TIP: It is a good idea to perform a trial and error regarding bits and running barrels. Many trainers and riders have different bits and headstalls or gear they use and train in. 


Your horse may benefit from one style of a bit when training in a specific area, be best when shown in a different bit, and need another for another activity or exercise. Bits are a phenomenal training tool. 

Breakdown of each bit and its use:


Snaffle bit:

There are many different styles of the snaffle.

If you can dream it up, it more than likely exists. 

Snaffles can be a great training tool for softness, teaching younger horses, or just in light of choosing a softer and more mild bit.

Switching your bits to incorporate a snaffle is excellent at home or on the road during practice and warm-up. 


Curb Bit:

To truly define a curb bit, the only absolute requirement is that the bit has a shank.

Curb bits provide the rider with additional leverage when compared side-by-side to a snaffle.

A curb is frequently seen among barrel racers and can be helpful with strong-headed, hot, or harder-to-handle horses that may need additional help with bending and creating arc around barrels. 


Gag Bit:

Gag bits made with barrel racing in mind will usually combine the benefits of a snaffle and curb.

Gag bits are widely loved by barrel racers due to the bit’s ability to encourage lift through the horse’s shoulders and help with flexion through turns. 

Check out this insightful video on how bits work and the pressure points within your horse’s mouth.

check out: Learn How Bits Work.


Boots and leg protection

Taking the proper precautions to protect your horse’s legs and feet is an excellent way to keep your horse performing, comfortable, and strong for as long as possible.

This is because there are so many different injuries ranging in severity that can happen when turning tight turns, running at top speeds, and performing the other remarkable feats that barrel horses are asked to do. 


When you begin searching for your horse’s leg gear, consider the main points that need protection. 


Generally, most barrel racers need to protect their horse’s tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues, the back of the hoof, protect from potential impact injuries, and reduce stress as much as possible.

Unfortunately, this means that you will need a couple of different sets of boots and will likely need to replace them due to wear and tear every 2-3 years, depending on how much you ride. 


“It is common practice for protective boots to be worn on the horse’s front and hind legs. This helps lessen the chance of injuries being sustained during training or competition. Injuries can occur anytime a horse is being worked or even turned out into the pasture. You should always use polo wraps or splint boots along with bell boots anytime you are turning your horse out, riding, training, hauling, or at an event. When picking out the proper protective boots, you need to take into consideration your knowledge of adequately applying the protective equipment because if you choose to use polo wraps and they are put on incorrectly, they can actually do more damage than wearing nothing at all. It is also advised that the writer wear a proper helmet as well, although this is not as common of a practice. In a Barrel Racing horse, the metacarpophalangeal joint is the most prone to injury. This is because of the sharp turns and intense transitions. Also, radiographs on the right and left front limbs are subject to the most stress. The sesamoid bones in the fetlock are likely to also become prone to arthritis or other stress injuries. Utilizing the proper protective gear, proper training, nutrition, and preventative measures can help lessen the likelihood of your horse acquiring any of these problems.” Barrel Racing 101 By: Augustus M. Walton


Here is a breakdown of the different types of protective boots.

(Note to readers, all of these links to products are personal UNPAID suggestions of products I believe are high quality, have a long wear lifespan, and truly do make a difference for your horse.)

Splint boots: 

These boots protect the horse’s legs from external impact injuries by acting as a barrier between the horse’s leg and the environment or potentially the horse’s other extremities. 


Jamie’s recommendations for splint boots:


Medicine boots: 

Similar to splint boots, but they take protection to the maximum.

They do everything the splint does, but they also are able to support the fetlock joint and suspensory system within the leg.

Because these boots are made of such high-quality materials, they are on a much higher end of the price spectrum, but they are a great investment in protecting your horse. 


Jamie’s recommendations for Medicine boots:


Bell boots: 

I personally never worked my horses without bell boots, polo’s, or medicine boots.

Bell boots are an essential that should be used every time you work your horse.

Many people (Including myself) also put bell boots and splints or medicine boots on horses during turnout or trailering.

Bell boots are shaped to fit around the horse’s pasterns.

They generally are only worn on the front feet and usually are to protect the horse from overreaching knicks and wounds.

Some bell boots offer heel support and shock absorption. 


Jamie’s recommendations for bell boots:


Polo wraps: 

Polo wraps are a type of bandage-style wrap that you layer around the horse’s leg.

Starting at the stop, you wrap downward, moving halfway down the wrap each time, finishing with 2 wraps around the fetlock joint; careful to not reduce the ability to flex the joint, and wrap your way back up towards the top of the leg.

You need to be cautious when using polo wraps.


“Polo wraps can be a very helpful and protective tool, but when used incorrectly, they can actually do far more damage than protection. This is because if it is wrapped in the wrong direction, the wrap can pull the tendon over the wrong way leading to extreme amounts of excess stress, pressure, and inability to properly function.” – Jamie Ridge

The wraps and bandages that you use will entirely depend on your horse’s needs and personal preferences.

Keeping your wraps clean and germ free

It is also a good idea to make sure that you keep your leg wraps clean.

They get dirty very quickly.

The mixture of sweat and dirt can quickly lead to fungus growth.

Rinsing any mud or brushing the dirt off your boots/ wraps, spraying them down with an alcohol and water mixture after each use, and weekly washes will keep your wraps clean and usable.

If you have leather boots and wraps, simply wipe them down, use a light alcohol wipe for sanitization, and then use a conditioner such as Voltaire’s Leather soap and conditioning balm and let them dry.  


Maintaining your equipment

Purchasing good equipment in the horse industry can generally be seen as a good investment.

Once you have begun the journey of acquiring high-quality equipment, you will want to make sure you take good care of your equipment.

A few easy ways to keep your tack in tip-top shape is to clean and condition it (if you can- some oiled leathers will not allow for cleaning frequently or without specific products, so be sure you contact the company you purchased your equipment from.)

If possible, it is a good idea to choose a leather that is able to be frequently cared for.

After you use a piece of equipment, you should wipe it down, clean any dirt or grime off, use a cleaner and conditioner, let it dry, and then store it in an individual, clean bag. 



Picking the right tack or working up to obtaining the best tack for your needs may take months to a few years (or longer), depending on your situation, but everyone can make sure that their tack fits well and is suited to run barrels.

This helps both you and your horse be as athletic and perform to the best of your abilities. 


Feel free to reach out if you need any help picking out high-quality equipment for you or your horse. Both Makala and I have lots of experience with lots of different products and brands. We would be thrilled to help you! 


Until next week, dear friends and readers! 

If you want to read more about barrel racing, check out some of our other articles: Barrel Racing History and Barrel Racing Exercises To Take You To The Next Level. 


Jamie and Makala

Rafter 3 Horse Development